By Ted Hansen
If the creative genius behind the band Boston, Tom Scholz, ever wants to add to his impressive resume, he can include children's toy maker. Friday night, July 25, 2014 at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix, Scholz and Boston were masters of the jack-in-the-box technique. That's where the pacing of the songs being played allow you sit down one moment, only to pop back up in the next.
Some people never did sit down and had the age of most in the audience been the same as when they first heard songs like "More Than A Feeling" or "Foreplay/Long Time," some thirty eight years ago, it's doubtful anybody would have sat down. With Boston's performance, you really didn't want to miss a second of the 100 minute show they put on.
You knew you were in for something special even before the concert began. In keeping with Boston's spaceship motif, which is found on the cover of every Boston album, the row of Rockman amplifiers and other electronic equipment lining the back of the stage resembled something you might find on the bridge of Boston's spaceship. The large video screens located above and behind the band were broken up in such a way as to resemble the type of windows that would allow you to see outside of Boston's spaceship while standing on its bridge. All that was needed was for the crew and captain to come aboard.
Captain Scholz arrived first, coaxing sounds out of his guitar that only Tom Scholz could create. He was soon joined by the crew, the ultra-talented Gary Pihl on guitar, Tommy DeCarlo on lead vocals, Tracy Ferrie on bass, Kimberley Dahme on rhythm guitar and Curly Smith on drums. They burst into "Rock & Roll Band," and the audience exploded.
Due to the untimely death of former lead singer Brad Delp, Boston, like so many classic rock bands still touring (Journey, Styx, Chicago, Foreigner to name a few) has been forced to find a replacement singer. DeCarlo, discovered like all new lead singers are, via a video on the internet, did an admirable job. He had great command of the vocals required, had the required stage presence that one demands of a front man, yet still didn't detract from what Scholz or the other members of the band were doing. The crowd eagerly accepted him.
As the windows of the spaceship showed that it was now traveling over the desert, (through the course of the night it would appear that the ship traveled over land, sea, mountains, into space, through asteroid belts, alongside other spacecraft and take a dip under the surface of the ocean) the band performed "Smokin.'" The song introduced Scholz' keyboard playing to the audience, which, if he wasn't such a talented guitarist, is an instrument he could certainly play full time.
After a rousing "Feelin' Satisfied," Scholz asked the audience how many believed classic rock bands should record new albums. A resounding majority yelled their approval and Scholz obliged them, delivering two songs off of Boston's December 2013 release, "Love, Life & Hope." The instrumental "Last Day of School," gave way to the title track "Love, Life & Hope," a song, with its harmonies and structure, was pure vintage Boston in sound.
Scholz turned the handle on his box toy and the audience popped back up for "Peace of Mind." Pihl, who has been with Boston for the last twenty eight years, and Scholz played one of the many amazing synchronized guitar leads they would do throughout the evening.
It was up, down for the middle of the set. The audience was up for "Cool the Engines," down for "Surrender to Me," a deep cut found on Boston's 1994 album, "Walk On." The latter song featured rhythm guitarist Kimberley Dahme on lead vocals. Boston might, in the studio, be more of a one man operation, but onstage every band member contributes.
The highlight of the evening for many came next. The opening chords to "Don't Look Back" brought everyone to their feet. The song's harmonies were flawless and the anticipation that builds in the song's middle before Scholz and Pihl erupted with their dual guitar leads, breathtaking.
As one might expect, the power ballad "Amanda," got the cell phones out, either recording or being held as a light, much like the few Bics that were lit as well. Those that stood swayed back and forth and DeCarlo's vocals were powerful. It was a nice catch your breath moment.
Scholz showed off the unique sounds he can muster from his keyboard with "The Launch," an instrumental found on "Third Stage." The video screens showed the Saturn V rocket ready for takeoff. Had NASA played the epic sounding "The Launch" during their moon missions, perhaps there would have been more than just six moon landings.
It would have been sacrilege to sit during "More Than A Feeling," the song which introduced Boston to the world. The vocals from the audience nearly eclipsed those coming from stage and the head bobbing was never more prevalent. Had there been sufficient room in the near sold out auditorium, an army of air guitarists certainly would have appeared.
The sound and guitar effects Scholz uses was in full display as he broke into a guitar solo. At one point, humorously letting the audience in on his techniques, he stopped playing the neck of his guitar but the sound continued. No matter how Scholz managed to make his sound, it was still jaw dropping. Being joined by Pihl who duplicated Scholz' guitar work, made the adventure even more memorable.
Siobhan Magnus, American Idol Season 9 sixth place finisher and niece of Boston's bass player Tracy Ferrie, was brought out to handle the vocals for "Walk On." Not only could Magnus belt out the lyrics, but her duets with DeCarlo were inspired. The song was the opening to the "Walk On Medley," which also featured Scholz back again on the organ for "Get Organ-ized." Scholz' organ work was as mesmerizing as his guitar playing.
Dusting off a little number Scholz had written back in 1969, Scholz was back on the keyboards for "Foreplay," which at song's end got one's heart racing for the build-up to "Long Time," that follows. Once again, the joint was jumping, hand clapping, singing and firing fists into the air.
With Ferrie racing around onstage, DeCarlo running through the audience and Magnus jumping up and down, it was hard to tell who was more frenzied, the crowd or the band. Scholz was content to play keyboards throughout the entire song, leaving the guitar solos to Pihl.
It's really hard to top a song like "Foreplay/Long Time" so the encore, "Party," was almost anticlimactic. However, the enjoyment level of the audience did not wane.
For Boston fans, it was a perfect show. The set list drew from almost every Boston album (songs from "Corporate America" didn't make the cut). All the big hits were played and yet some deep track gems were also uncovered. The new Boston album was represented but not overplayed.
The sound system, no doubt supervised by Scholz was superb. Each band member was first rate. Pihl was masterful on guitar. Smith's drumming was stellar. DeCarlo, Ferrie and Dahme were instrumental in making Boston sound like Boston. And Scholz was everything you would expect him to be.
Those in the crowd who didn't stand throughout the whole show may have experienced some pop goes the knee joint moments from constantly standing up and sitting down all night. It's easy to forget your body's limitations when the music makes you feel thirty years younger.
Set list: Rock & Roll Band | Smokin' | Feelin' Satisfied | Last Day of School | Life, Love & Hope | Peace of Mind | It's Been Such a Long Time Interlude | Cool the Engines | Surrender to Me | Don't Look Back | Something About You | Amanda | The Launch | More Than a Feeling | Instrumental with Tom Scholz guitar solo | A New World | To Be a Man | Walk On | Get Organ-ized | Walk On (Some More) | Foreplay/Long Time | Encore: Party